Superintendent Terrence Beam discusses the Glade Creek project, and coming home to Nicholas County

By Matthew Young, RealWV

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. – The Nicholas County school system is at a crossroad. It’s been seven years since the catastrophic flood of 2016 landed a body-blow to the heart of the county, and life has yet to return to normal. The second blow – this coming in the form of a global pandemic – hit residents squarely on the chin, leaving many of the county’s youngest students with no concept of what normal is, or ever was.

For years, the lynchpin of frustration amongst residents has been the county’s failure to rebuild Summersville Middle School, Richwood Middle School, and Richwood High School – all destroyed in the flood on that fateful June day, seven years ago. While construction is now underway on the new Richwood Middle/High School, the Glade Creek project – the proposed future home of Summersville Middle School, and Nicholas County High School and Technical Center – has remained untouched. 

Last May, former Nicholas County Superintendent of Schools Donna Burge-Tetrick announced that she had accepted a position in her home county of Braxton, beginning on July 1. Her resignation was swiftly followed by that of former County Board of Education member, Gus Penix. Nicholas County Schools found itself  in need of new leadership. And for that, the remaining board members looked to a familiar face. 

“I grew up and went to school here, all my kids went to school here, brothers and sisters, mom – everybody went to school here,” Nicholas County’s new Superintendent Terrence Beam told RealWV on Tuesday. “It’s home.”

A graduate of Richwood High, Beam served Nicholas County Schools for more than 30 years before serving the students of Pocahontas County for 13 more – both as principal and superintendent. While Beam has lived in-and-around Summersville for all of his life, a prodigal son he is not. Beam’s hiring by Nicholas County marks a return to the school system where he began his days as both a student, and an educator. 

“I’m a native Nicholas Countian, I’ve lived here my entire life,” Beam said. “I left Nicholas County Schools in 2009. What’s funny is that a lot of the students that I had in school are now teachers in this school system. I had them as students, and now they’ve got me as their superintendent.” 

Now well into the fifth decade of his career, Beam finds himself in the unenviable position of being more than an administrator, and more than an educator…Beam must become a project manager, and a community healer, as well. 

“The first Board (of Education) meeting I led (in Nicholas County) was July 3,” Beam said. “At that time we rejected the bid on the project at Glade Creek, which would have been a combination new high school, middle school, and vocational center. The bid came in $72 million over budget.”

The Glade Creek project had only one bidder, Beam explained, and was bid at over $300 per square foot more than the Richwood project. According to Beam, delays and material shortages created by the COVID-pandemic greatly contributed to the large increase in cost.

“The plans that they had to build what they wanted to build were simply not practical anymore for us to be able to afford,” Beam said. “It’s pretty hard when FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) gives you $180 million to build schools with, and then you have to go to the public and say, ‘Well, we need $72 million more from you.’”

Beam said that the decision was made to reject the bid, and request that FEMA allow the county to scale down the scope of the project, thus significantly reducing the need for public funds.

“If FEMA does allow us to do that, and they’ve given us every indication that they will, then we’ve got a plan to move ahead,” Beam noted. “It will probably be a K-8 school on the Glade Creek site. If they allow us to use the remaining money – which is about $97 million – we’ve got an estimate to build a K-8 school that comes out to about $85 million.”

Beam added that while the plan was made public over a month ago, there has been no indication of resistance from the community. 

“It will involve closing three of our elementary schools to do that,” Beam said. “We have Birch River, which has about 75 kids. We have Glade Creek – which is only about a mile from the site we’re going to build the new school at – and they’ve got around 130 kids.”

Summersville Elementary School, which serves approximately 350 students, would be the third school impacted by the new plan. However, according to Beam, “They’re ready to move because that school has been needing a new building for probably 20 years now.”

Beam added that the building design for the K-8 building will stay within the footprint of the original buildings, thus avoiding the need for additional costly and time-consuming environmental-impact studies. 

For Beam, the unenviable position he now finds himself in is one which he feels he was called to accept.

“We’ve got to get these two buildings built,” Beam said. “But even bigger than that, we’ve got to heal this county, and I’m hoping that my presence will help.”

“I think I can bring a little bit of calm to the whole situation, and a little bit more open communication and clarity,” Beam continued. “My door is wide open so people can come in and see me. The little things that you can do to let people know you’re willing to listen to what they have to say, I think that goes a long way. I think sometime in the past people felt like they were being shut out, and that their opinion wasn’t valued. Sometimes people just need to be heard.”

“Like I said, I’ve lived here my entire life, and we need to just start working together and healing ourselves,” Beam added. “I have a vested interest in this county by having family going to these schools, and having more family who will be going through the school system too in four or five years.” 

“I want to make decisions that are going to be best for the education and safety of our kids – our kids have to be the focal point,” Beam concluded. “If we lose sight of that, then we’ve lost sight of what our purpose is.”

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